Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet — which, despite the bucolic name, is based in New York City rather than the northern Midwest — offered some of the most musically responsive, physically demanding and intellectually satisfying dancing I've seen Saturday afternoon at Galliard Municipal Auditorium.
The best came first, a piece for Cedar Lake's full company entitled "Sunday, Again," choreographed by Jo Stromgren and set to the music of J.S.Bach — three pieces from the "Well Tempered Clavier" (played on both harpsichord and piano), selections from the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, and a selection of choruses, occasionally interrupted by electronic whirs and the sound of ping-pong balls.
Indeed, sports seemed to be a mysterious subtext in Stromgren's conception: Dancers are dressed in tennis outfits; badminton rackets are
dropped, meaningfully; a net is dragged back and forth across the stage. Lovers meet, greet, grope and flee from one another.
According to Stromgren, his dance "thematically treats the domestic jungle of luxury problems and gender frictions — there is always the irritating and inevitable Sunday which forces couples to test their coexistence abilities. Leisure time is not good for certain types of relationships."
Well, OK, but what made "Sunday, Again" so moving was the sensitive attention that Stromgren paid to Bach's work, out of which, one felt, all his images flowed. It seemed to me a visual representation of the scores, its rhythms and fancies an organic outgrowth from searingly beautiful music. (Remember the way that the filmmaker Ingmar Bergman used to use Bach's solo cellos suites, unadorned, whenever the emotions of his characters had ventured beyond anything that might be expressed in words?)
I was also reminded of film during Crystal Pite's "Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue," which called to mind one of those spy movies set at the Berlin Wall. The stage was dark except for some glaring sinister flood lights. Characters ran back and forth nervously, and one had the sense that anything could go wrong at any time. One character practiced an elaborate version of Michael Jackson's so-called "moon-walking" and here it conveyed a sense of fearful urgency, as though he was falling backwards and going to be lost in space forever unless he could catch up with his partner.
For me, the sole disappointment was the closing number, a gathering of selections from Ohad Naharin's "Decadence." Part of the problem was the score — which combined what sounded like a Ted Nugent rave-up of "Hava Nagila," some uninspired Middle Eastern pop cheese food, the theme from "Hawaii Five-O" and a fragment of Vivaldi's "Stabat Mater."
Perhaps I am too concerned with music and its representation — "Decadence" was cheered to the rafters — but this struck me as the sort of stuff that gives both post-modernism and nouvelle cuisine a bad name. Touch this base, touch that one, throw them all together and end up with some horror like crab claws with Listerine and peach pits. I did admire the finale, which left only one lost figure on the stage and allowed the opening solo from Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata to play through in its entirety, after two false starts.
Jazz and beyond
Don't let my dismissal of some of the music played in the Cedar Lake presentation suggest that I am opposed to pop culture. Indeed, I found myself reflecting on the Spoleto Festival USA's early refusal to present jazz, thanks to the effete, blinkered narrowness of founder Gian Carlo Menotti's classical "taste." What insanity that was — and in Charleston, of all places!
Today, there is a whole concert series, entitled "Jazz and More," that has featured the Tierney Sutton Band, the pianist Ramberto Ciammarughi, the Punch Brothers and the blues of Beverly "Guitar" Watkins. Jazz is omnipresent in the restaurants and bars that line Market Street, and Piccolo Spoleto offers all sorts of music throughout the city.
All to the good. But I'm wondering why we don't hear more from some of our venturesome pop and rock bands at Spoleto. To be sure, Laurie Anderson visited last year, and she might (barely) qualify as a sort of rocker, albeit a pretentious and not very good one. But why doesn't Spoleto reach out to bands like the Magnetic Fields, the High Llamas and Stereolab, to name only three, who are creating new music that is deeply experimental, carefully crafted and of genuine musical interest? I may add that these artists are not young, untutored thrashers but established, hardworking creators now in their 40s and 50s, with decades of work behind them. They attract literate audiences, and their songs seem to me much more compelling than just another chance for a bass player and a drummer to show off their chops in a ten-minutes-too-long vamp on "Take Five."
Good music is good music, and Spoleto could be more inclusive than it is, without letting down any of its standards.